The secret sauce
While LG’s 2019 OLEDs don’t offer any major picture improvements on last year, the new Alpha A9 Gen 2 video processing chip delivers subtle enhancements.
This includes support for high frame rate 120fps content to smooth out fast-moving action, along with HDMI 2.1 ports to make the most of HFR content from external sources. Home entertainment lovers will appreciate enhanced audio return channel, while gamers will appreciate support for variable refresh rate and automatic low latency mode.
The new “AI Picture” setting fine-tunes the picture based on the content and viewing environment. Supposedly the result is improved upscaling, banding, noise reduction and colour accuracy.
What you see is what you get
Sitting alongside last year’s LG C8 OLED, I put the 65-inch C9’s AI Picture enhancements to the test on Game of Thrones‘ infamously murky Battle of Winterfell, upscaled from 1080i on Foxtel’s iQ4 set top box.
The results were surprising: AI Picture mode made absolutely no difference.
By default the C9 offers higher peak brightness on standard dynamic range content than last year’s C8. This reveals a tad more detail in the shadows, such as Sansa’s clothing down in the crypt, but there’s no improvement on the noise in the shadows and other issues like banding.
This slight improvement remains consistent whether or not AI Picture mode is engaged. It’s a similar story when switching between Foxtel, free-to-air, DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix Ultra HD with Dolby Vision.
To be fair, I did see AI Picture work its magic on noise in dark scenes during LG’s demos back at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Perhaps the improvement will be clearer on larger screens, especially when upscaling to 8K.
Something to watch
The other key enhancements include a smarter smart assistant, improved smart home controls and OS tweaks which make it easier to find something to watch.
When you select Netflix, Stan or Telstra Box Office in the home menu, a secondary line of icons appears presenting deep links straight to recently viewed shows and other popular content.
You can speak to the LG television by holding down the mic button on the remote, but LG still insists on forcing its own ThinQ to live side by side with the smarter Google Assistant (with Amazon’s Alexa on the way).
Thankfully ThinQ is a little smarter this year: when you’re faced with a list of content you can say “play the first one” and it understands the context, rather than searching for something called “the first one”.
AirPlay 2 streaming will arrive via a firmware update later this year, but it isn’t coming to LG’s 2018 models. Meanwhile, even this year’s LG televisions miss out on access to the iTunes store, as Apple’s new smart TV app is a Samsung exclusive for now.
If you’re sick of talking to your appliances then you can also use the television’s onscreen Home Dashboard to control devices with the TV’s remote. Unfortunately it’s rather underwhelming at this stage unless you’re mostly interested in controlling LG appliances like washers and dryers.
In theory, Home Dashboard can access any device that can be controlled by your Google or Amazon smart speakers. In practice, they won’t appear until they embrace the Open Connectivity Foundation standard, so I couldn’t see my LifX, Belkin WeMo or Philips Hue devices.
LG is also adding support for Apple HomeKit, but this won’t add HomeKit devices to the Home Dashboard. Instead, it will just let you boss around your television via Siri on an Apple iGadget or HomePod.
So what’s the verdict?
If picture quality is your highest priority then you can’t go wrong with LG’s Ultra HD OLEDs. This year’s slight contrast boosts pays off in the very darkest of scenes, but your mileage may vary if you’re hoping AI Picture will help when upscaling shabby content.
The addition of Alexa and Siri will be a winner in some homes, but ThinQ still gets in the way at times and Home Dashboard fails to impress. While LG’s TVs are getting smarter, they’re perhaps not yet the smart home command centre you might be dreaming of.
Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian technology journalist and co-host of weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News.